ISLAND HOPPING in GERMANY

While international tourism to Germany is increasing, visitors rather stick to the clichés like beer and Lederhosen at Munich and a cruise on the river Mosel; or they hang out at the hip capital Berlin – instead of enjoying Island Hopping in Germany.

I guess that’s the reason why many people think Germany is landlocked. They don’t think about long coasts, two seas, and about 80 islands.

Dunes on the Island of Borkum in Germany
I think this is not the first image that comes to mind when talking ’bout travelling Germany.

However, that’s exactly what Germany’s north has to offer – and many fascinating phenomenons like the tideland that comes with it. As a matter of fact, Germany’s shoreline is longer than the Portuguese one.

So what are you waiting for? Join me on my island hopping…in Germany!

Germany is divided into sixteen federal countries. Three of them are on the coast. Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania are in the north and Lower Saxony is in the west. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is in the Baltic region and Lower Saxony’s shores border the north sea. Schleswig-Holstein, however, is nestled between both.

The Islands

Like I mentioned before, there are about 80 islands there and I cannot introduce them all. Therefore, I’ve had a concept, travelling from the east to the west and picked the following:

Fehmarn in the Baltic sea

Föhr as one of the five large North Frisian islands

Heligoland as supposedly Germany’s only deep-sea island

Neuwerk which does politically belong to the distant city of Hamburg and you can reach walking

Borkum as one of the seven East Frisian islands – and Germany’s westernmost isle

On this map, you can see where exactly they are located:

Each of these islands represents precious culture and traditions, astonishing phenomenons, outstanding activities, beautiful sceneries, and well-preserved flora and fauna.

Schleswig-Holstein

Schleswig-Holstein lies on the base of the Jutland Peninsula between the north sea and the Baltic. Both waters are epicontinental seas and connected with the Atlantic ocean.
It is the northernmost of the 16 federal states of Germany with obviously, long beaches and many islands.

I’ve introduced three of them:

Fehmarn

Fehmarn is Germany’s third-largest island. In the times of Germany’s post-war division, it was the only Island in the Baltic sea belonging to the western part, the Federal Republic.

Renata Green in a field of Colza on the Island of Fehmarn in Germany
A field of joy! Fehmarn is even more beautiful while the rapeseed is in full bloom. (Photo: Mimi Green)

In the south, the Fehmarnsundbrücke, the Fehmarn Sound Bridge, connects the island with the German mainland. It is almost one kilometer long and carrying road and rail.

Smoked Prawns on the Island of Fehmarn in Germany
If you are rather into hearty food, you won’t be starving on Fehmarn – don’t you worry.

In the north, at Puttgarden, lies the small harbor that connects Fehmarn with Rødby in Denmark by a very scenic ferry ride. By the way, also just a great joy roundtrip in itself.

Once on Fehmarn, you need to

  have breakfast or tea time at one of the cozy cafés in the remodeled barns
  visit the Waterbird Reserve Wallnau
  go on a ferry ride to Denmark
  visit an old windmill and learn about the island’s past rural life
  cycle on the 300 kilometers long bike lanes to the beautiful beaches

But there is much more to explore – as you can read in my post.

Föhr

There are five North Frisian islands scattered in the north sea off the coast of Schleswig-Holstein. One of them, Föhr, is Germany’s largest and most populated island with no land connection. You have to get there by ferry which even adds to the charm.

Talking Gravestone on the Island of Föhr in Germany
One of the most fascinating and beautiful traditions has been the Talking Gravestone, narrating about the deceased exciting life – often as a whale catcher.

There are various interesting and quirky phenomenons to experience on – or off – the island of Föhr like a hike into the tideland and paying the gray seals on a sandbar a visit.

Friesentorte on the Island of Föhr
How did the UNESCO miss out on putting the Friesentorte on their List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, the delicious Frisian cake, consisting of a thin layer of plum puree and a generous glob of whipped cream, held together by two crunchy pieces of puff pastry?

Also, in summer, you can hike to the neighbor island Amrum. Like I said, in summer, since you have to cross a hip-deep tidal creek….and, believe me, you don’t want to do that during another season!

Once on Föhr, you need to

  go on a boat trip to the Halligs, the tiny, secluded islets scattered in the sea around North Frisia
  pay the old cemeteries a visit and try to figure out the life stories of the late whale catchers
  admire the art at the Museum der Westküste, the Museum Art of the West Coast
  awe at the gorgeous traditional architecture i. a. at the village of Nieblum
  spend the night under the stars in a Strandkorb, a hooded wicker beach chair.

But there is much more to explore – as you can read in my post.

Heligoland

Baby Seal on the Island of Heligoland in Germany
To me, the number of seals on Düne’s beach was the highlight of my trip to Heligoland……

Heligoland is a tiny archipelago that long ago used to be Danish and British, but is, actually, as German as can be. In 1841, the poet Von Fallersleben wrote the National Anthem during his stay on the island.

However, today’s visitors to Heligoland can hardly imagine that at the end of  WWII, Germany’s supposedly only deepsea island was completely bombed out. For ten long years, it even was uninhabitable.

Sea Birds on the Island of Heligoland in Germany
….but I was also very impressed by the birds.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, today, Heligoland is one of Germany’s most popular island when it comes to a couple of relaxing days in a secluded spot.

Once on Heligoland, you need to

 pay the seals on the island of Düne a visit
 hike on the Oberland to the rock where the birds are nesting
 join an informative and gripping tour into the air raid shelter tunnels
eat Knieper, delicious crab claws
 do some duty-free shopping

But there is much more to explore – as you can read in my post.

Lower Saxony

In terms of the surface area, Lower Saxony is Germany’s second-largest federal country, however, it is somehow the country’s éminence grise. Although it does not get much international tourism, probably everybody around the globe knows Lower Saxony’s most prominent export hit, the Volkswagen, with the headquarter in Wolfsburg.

However, there is more important industry in Lower Saxony, and the annual fair Cebit was taking place at Lower Saxony’s capital Hannover till 2018 for a reason.

In Hannover, in the year 2000 also the World Exhibition Expo took place.

Another fun fact is the very tight connection between the British Royal House and the Welfs of Hannover.  Also, Princess Caroline of Monaco had married randy Welf Prince Ernst-August who for instance caused a scandal during the Expo when he peed against the Turkish pavilion – literally!

Obviously, all this is not necessarily a reason to put Lower Saxony on my list of unmissably tourist destinations. But the coastline is a valid one, respectively the Wadden Sea and the islands scattered there:
World’s largest Tideland stretches in the North-West of Europe from the Netherlands along Germany’s Westcoast all the way up to Denmark. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2009.

The Lower Saxon Wadden Sea National Park is a major part of this area and spreads over 1,335 square miles. It was established in 1986 and consists of the East Frisian Islands, mudflats, and salt marshes.

Neuwerk

Riders on the mudflat between Cuxhaven and the Island of Neuwerk in Germany
While the tide is low, the island of Neuwerk can be reached riding or even walking – it’s only about ten miles from the mainland, after all.

Neuwerk is one of the many small islands scattered in the World’s largest Wadden Sea. This area stretches in the North-West of Europe from the Netherlands along Germany all the way up to Denmark.

Cemetery of the Nameless from 1319 on the Island of Neuwerk in Germany
The small, but quite touching Cemetery of the Nameless from 1319. Unidentified drowning victims used to be buried here.

It has a quirky status since it belongs to the city of Hamburg which is about 120 km further east. Neuwerk is basically a North German Gibraltar.

That it is an island that can be visited hiking makes it even more unusual.

So once you get there, chances are that you’ll have already the most exciting part behind you. However, there are further attractions you shouldn’t miss.

Once on Neuwerk, you need to

 A hike to Cuxhaven – unless you came here hiking and do want to get back the same day
 A hike to the uninhabited islet of Scharhörn, a spellbinding refuge for birds
 Enjoy a snack at one of the small farmhouses
 Get information on the wonders of the Wadden Sea at the information center Nationalpark-Haus
 Spend the night in a straw bed

But there is much more to explore – as you can read in my post.

Borkum

Beach on Borkum in Germany
There are beach areas where vacationers find colorful shelter from the sun and the breeze coming from the north sea.

The island of Borkum is one of the seven East Frisian Islands off the coast of Eastern Friesland. It is not only the largest, but also the westernmost isle. Therefore, Borkum is geographically actually closer to the Netherlands than to the German mainland.

Seals on Borkum in Germany
Humans are not the only mammals that enjoy a vacation on the beaches of Borkum.

Parts of Borkum, as well as the adjacent tideland, form part of the Nationalpark Niedersächsisches Wattenmeer, Lower Saxon Wadden Sea National Park, hence listed as a UNESCO World Heritage.

Once on Borkum, you need to

✔ explore the island cycling on about 130 kilometers long bike lanes
 go on a coach tour to the seal sandbar
 pay the whale catcher cemetery and the old lighthouse a visit
 spend a day on the beach in a traditional Strandkorb, a hooded wicker chair, or in the dunes
 enjoy the view from the new lighthouse

But there is much more to explore – as you can read in my post.

So, you’re planning on adding a beach break to your next trip to Germany now? Then make sure to pin one of these pix for further reference:

Pinnable pictureNope, Germany is not landlocked - actually, the shoreline is longer than the Portuguese: There are two seas and about 80 islands, and I'm introducing the five most fascinating ones. So what are you waiting for? Join me on my island hopping...in Germany!
ISLANDHOPPING
Pinnable picture Nope, Germany is not landlocked - actually, the shoreline is longer than the Portuguese: There are two seas and about 80 islands, and I'm introducing the five most fascinating ones. So what are you waiting for? Join me on my island hopping...in Germany!
GERMAN ISLES
Pinnable picture Nope, Germany is not landlocked - actually, the shoreline is longer than the Portuguese: There are two seas and about 80 islands, and I'm introducing the five most fascinating ones. So what are you waiting for? Join me on my island hopping...in Germany!
ISLANDS

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60 Replies to “ISLAND HOPPING in GERMANY”

  1. So this is the introductory post. I think I've read most of your posts on each island. Changed my whole picture of Germany even as we went to the south and not Munich, Berlin or Frankfurt

      1. I think the other reason people don’t associate islands with Germany is because those islands and seas are to the north where it doesn’t get too warm for beach stuff. But the wildlife is astonishing!

  2. So true, that first photo is certainly not what we picture when mentioning Germany. Love that Friesentorte, by the way, looks delicious.
    Still, I think I'd go for Borkum. Spending time on the beach there would be nice, but I'd also try the cycling tour. If not for the whole 300 km, then for at least 10 or so.
    Thanks for this, didn't even know about this side of Germany. 🙂

    1. The stay on Borkum was really nice – I'm still overwhelmed by the size of the beaches: huuuuge!

  3. The only time I seen the coastline of Germany is from my 80+ flights between UK and Latvia in the last ten years. The beaches sure do like wide and yellow (not sure if they are golden) but they also look quite quiet in the summer months also, probably the same sort of British weather, too cold! 😀 But from the ground and on your post, there looks like some hidden gems here and defo worth checking out.

    1. I guess that's because they are so huge; they are never, ever packed since there is sooo much space. Well, too cold….in summer, it's up to 35 degrees celsius – then you need the Strandkorb to shelter from the sun.

  4. This is a great post and thank you so much for showing a different side of Germany. Like many, I had very typical impressions of Germany and none of them included beaches. I know the Portuguese coastline, so I can only imagine the German one. I have a new appreciation for the country. Thank you.

    1. That was my only intention: To show that it's not all mountains and that the other part is totally worth visiting. And research for my posts was a great excuse to spend some amazing weekends on those islands, too 😉

  5. I am very guilty of what you say, all of my trips so far to Germany have very much involved a few too many beers and not enough of the coast line. I love that you can reach the island of Neuwerk by walking or on horseback! That would be amazing to do.

    1. Don't worry, I think most people are guilty of that. Yes, the hike to Neuwerk is amazing, and they build a mobile bar on the tideland – so next time, you'll have your beer there.

  6. You got it right, when people say Germany, I absolutely do not picture islands or beaches; instead, I think of Berliner Dom and beautiful churches in Munich and more, completely landlocked. But this is a complete new picture of Germany that you have brought up. Starting from the Frisian islands to the places by the Baltic sea, places like Fohr, Heligoland, Neuwerk, Borkum, Fehmarn are completely new to me and I would love to include them in my Germany itinerary.

  7. What another fun German island. We love riding so would totally cycle around Fehmarn. Or course, we’d have to visit Fohr for Frisian cake. 🙂

    1. Yes, I personally find they make the best on Föhr. But maybe I could add a series on Frisian cake hopping….

  8. Wow what a beautiful place to explore. I love to cycle so I would love to explore this German island.

  9. What a unique thing to do – island hopping in Germany. I didn't even know these islands existed! Love your photos; must have been fun to see all the wildlife!

  10. I've been up to the North Sea in Germany, which isn't always the warmest even in summer. But I didn't realize Germany has all those islands or that you could even visit many of them. That's definitely getting off the beaten path in Germany!

    1. Yes, the weather – which can be very hot or quite cold even in summer – is the only weak point. It can be tropical, but you can never be sure.

  11. My teenage son and I absolutely adore Germany and we had planned another trip for this summer, but COVID…
    So many off the beaten track places for us to choose from in here !

    1. Once you can make it to Germany, you should definitely see (also) other stuff than those epitomes. The north is different, interesting – and quite peculiar 😉

  12. BRB, just planning my trip to Heligoland to see the seals! This is a great post, I honestly can’t believe people don’t talk about Germany’s islands more.

  13. I love your posts about the islands. I never think of Germany as having islands and they all look so fabulous. I think I can feel a plan coming on! Malta and Germany have an air corridor 😉

  14. Germany certainly looks different to me now that I know of these islands you have mentioned. They each are unique and island hopping would be a wonderful experience.

  15. Definitely would not have thought about island hopping in Germany! Such a unique and different way to explore the country. I hope to get back to Germany again in the future and would love to see some of the places firsthand.

  16. I had no idea Germany has islands. I need to read up on my history. I would love them all for the hiking. But Heligoland sounds fascinated. When you think of it ot really wasn’t all that long ago when it was bombed out in the grand scheme of things . They rebuilt it quite quickly.

  17. You are completely right, when I think of Germany………I never think of Germany and islands. In my mind it is always landlocked beautiful mountains and fields. I definitely want to go for a tour of all the islands.

  18. I always find my self surprised when I read about countries that are not surrounded by the meditoranian, that have really beautiful beaches. I dont know why though, I live in sweden and we have fairytale beaches aswell, but still… 😀

  19. I’ve never even thought about the islands of Germany, I’m not sure I even thought about their existence. This is giving me a sight of a very different side of Germany to visit!

  20. What a memorable horse-ride to the island of Neuwerk, that’s quite a trek but a lovely way to spend you day. It doesn’t sound like there’s much to do once you get there, but what’s that saying about the the journey being more important than the destination?

    1. No, there definitely isn’t much to do on Neuwerk. You can watch the water come and go – or the grass grow. Actually, you can also hike to a bird sanctuary as the tide is low. But that’s it: Charming nothing 😀

  21. I really love this article and I love the islands of Germany. I am quite fond of the island of Rügen and especially Hiddensee. I know that area well because my sailboat once had her home port in Stralsund and I learned to sail on the Baltic Sea. I was lucky enough to take a sailing trip to the island of Helgoland and absolutely loved the spectacular bird sanctuary! It was really special! I don’t know these other islands but can’t wait to explore them one day!

  22. I had never thought of Germany as a beach/island destination so it was surprising to read of all these amazing places to visit. For me, the wildlife on Heligoland would be a big draw.

  23. This is definitely not what comes to mind when I think of Germany. From Beaches to seal’s… Clearly I have a lot to learn about this country!

  24. When I read your title at first, I thought you are joking. I never knew about German islands and these island hopping thing looks interesting to me. As I have been to German mainlands and was quite impressed, and so this time, thinking for some islands after reading your post. Fehmarn looks very beautiful with those yellow rapeseed blooms.

    1. This is exactly the reason why I’m introducing these islands: It’s a side of Germany hardly any foreigner knows about. I want to change that! 🙂

  25. Wow, I definitely never thought about island hopping in Germany. I knew it wasn’t landlocked but never think about it’s coastline! This is a great introduction, good for when I can get back to Europe and plan a trip to the islands!

  26. Wonderful intro to the German north coast! I am guilty of having never considered it, but looks like a restful nature area once you’ve had your fill of the big cities! Thanks for the ideas!

  27. Germany is such a beautiful country with such diverse terrain. I love seeing the islands as I haven’t had an opportunity to visit any of them. I will definitely be adding them to my list though!

  28. Thank you for sharing another side of Germany! The photo of the horse-ride on the beach in Neuwerk really caught my eye. I’ll definitely consider adding that to my itinerary when I find myself in Germany.

  29. This is such a great trip as I love island hopping. To be frank I never thought of visiting the German coast but I would absolutely love to do it. BTW that picture of Fehmarn with the rapeseed in full bloom looks divine.

  30. When I think of Germany, I definitely don’t think ‘Island Hopping’. Thanks for this fresh perspective on a well-travelled destination. The islands look like a birders paradise, I think I’d love a trip there.

  31. Oh Boy! I had no idea! I visited Germany last year March, if only I knew about island hopping. Perhaps next time! A great post 🙂

  32. I’m ashamed to say I also had never thought about Germany having such beautiful islands. Or any islands for that matter. I should know it isn’t landlocked as my first ever trip abroad age 14 was to Germany by ship from the UK. I love all the seals, they are so cute. Hard to believe there are beaches with that many of them. And that Friesentorte looks delicious

  33. Those places are stunning, I wouldn’t have guessed there were in Germany! For some reasons I always thought about big city and architecture for Germany, islands hopping is a great activity!

  34. I must admit that I often think of Germany as a cold, land locked country. Good to be reminded that there is lots of coastlines and islands too. I think when I plan a visit to Germany it will now have lots of variety between the big cities and some island hopping. I loved reading that there is such a good variety in the things to do on the islands.

  35. This is one part of Germany I haven’t been to yet. I would love to go island hoping. It’s amazing what we take for granted in our own backyard. I have seen about 80% of Germany, as I am half German, and spent my summers there visiting my Oma. But nothing north of Koln have I been. I will someday, and will use your guide as my resource. Dankeschon aus Kanada!

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